Malcolm X, who was gunned down 23 years ago this month, remains an elusive, figure. The one-man "Malcolm X--Reminiscences of a Revolutionary," at the Cast," succeeds in dramatizing its subject with sufficient personal detail and enough expressive staging to blow away most of the dry bones associated with biographical drama.
The production also admirably cuts through much of the misinformation that continues to hover over the fiery, spiritual leader as we see Malcolm X return from the dead to address a throng of listeners in an attempt to set his radical and personal record straight.
Two full-length acts are a long time for a single actor to hold a stage, but Malcolm X's incarnation by actor Damone Paul Jackson is an arresting performance, abetted by Jackson's strong resemblance to Malcolm X and the actor's polemical energy.
This play, stronger on information than emotional incandescence, was written by Frank G. Greenwood and has had at least two Waiver stagings in recent years. Most of its information is dramatized by Jackson's mercurial shifts in tone. What we fathom early is a man in growing war with himself.
The result is to humanize a figure who came into our homes as that dangerous, almost spooky radical behind the sunglasses. Jackson doesn't wear sunglasses and what we see and come to understand through Ricky Pardon's staging is a man feared and loathed by the establishment (including the NAACP and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee who, we are reminded, turned against him).
With an on-stage percussionist highlighting motifs, we see Jackson play out central components of the story. These include the firebombing of Malcolm's home when he was 5, his shattering disenchantment with a revered white high school teacher that triggered withdrawal from white people, his street hustling days in Harlem, his personally disastrous falling out with Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad, his mind-opening trip to Mecca and the political awakening that "all men are brothers."
There is no need to dramatize as we hear a brief account of the day (Feb. 21, 1965) he was killed by 21 gunshot wounds. The killers escaped. Malcolm X was dead at 39.
Performances run at 804 N. El Centro Ave., Sundays at 4 p.m., through Feb. 28. Tickets: $5; (213) 462-0265.
"He was born in the middle of a story he had nothing to do with" begins the solo speaker in "Tongues," a fascinating work by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin that, chameleon-like, traverses in its short 30 minutes what seems like 30 different tongues and/or characters.
Actor Peter Cohl, reprising an acclaimed performance, never moves off his stool but the imagination races as Cohl's focus shifts with deceptive speed: "Is this you, death? . . ." Then, like the wind, we hear another voice: a Southern cracker.
Cohl applies mesmerizing vocal and emotional dexterity to a dramatic monologue notable for its sense of ritual and performance art. The production is astutely directed by Laura J. Graham, who also evocatively underscores this harmony of tongues with her own percussive counterpoint. Art director Shane Nelson's red and blue lighting enhances the moods.
The event marks the debut of a new stage in a private club near downtown Los Angeles called Flaming Colossus. The atmosphere, a huge, funky, second-floor hall draped with abstract canvases and featuring a bar and a trio of tuxedoed musicians to warm things up, is unique, communal, and appears notable for collegiate-looking night-club lovers. They seemed totally absorbed in the play. The catch is that, being both theater and night-club, it costs $22.50 to get in, but the send-off is promising.
Producer Elizabeth Miller Fels says the policy is to stick to short plays. Next up: The Shepard/Chaikin "Savage/Love."
Performances are at 850 S. Bonnie Brae St., Friday s and Saturday s , 9:30 p.m., through Feb. 27. Tickets: $22.50. (213) 466-1767.
'The Importance of Being Elvis'
This original musical comedy with music, book and direction by Allen Petrinka has one thing to do with Elvis Presley. You get little sideburns when you walk in the theater at the Olio. A bloated caricature of Elvis (Robert Kempf) does appear in the finale singing "I Haven't Had a Hit in Years," but Elvis is only an excuse on which to hang an inane production.
The performance quartet is led by Petrinka, who in a droll way, is rather beguiling and disarming as a singer-lyricist-pianist ("You'll never know the woman you marry / I'm sad to report / Until you meet her in court"). But the acting and musical book are bewildering.
We're supposedly into a satirical swipe at fame and fortune here, according to the press release, but you couldn't tell it from the show. The program prints all the lyrics. You might want to sing along.
KT Vogt and Mark Browning complete the cast. The set, wisely, is uncredited.
Performances are at 3709 Sunset Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., until Feb. 27. Tickets: $7. (213) 667-9556.
'The Marriage Gambol'